This passage follows on from Paul’s discussion in chapter two of what God has done in the church, reconciling humans to God and making one new man in Christ from Jews and Gentiles alike. In these verses, he raises the stakes in a spectacular way and speaks of the how through the church the wisdom of God is displayed in the spiritual realms.
In verse 1 it seems that Paul is going to apply what he has been talking about, but then gets distracted and begins to exult once more – eventually coming back to his application at the beginning of chapter 4. The topic of this exultation is the mystery of Christ that has been made known to the apostles and prophets by the Spirit.
Whilst many of us might describe the mystery of Christ in terms of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God, Paul’s focus is on the ‘horizontal’ reconciliation (which in his thought is inseparable from the ‘vertical’ reconciliation that we often focus on). The mystery is that Jews and Gentiles are made into one body in Christ through the gospel. Until we see the reconciliation of peoples in Christ as a central issue then our understanding of the gospel falls short of the mystery that Paul preached and rejoiced in.
From this, Paul reflects on his own role. He considers himself the least of the saints, and in part is likely referring to his past as a persecutor, though this is appropriate humility for anyone who begins to grasp the glories of Christ and see the depths of their own sin. Yet, despite his lowliness he has been made a minister to preach the gospel to the Gentiles and make known the mystery. It is true that Paul received a particular commission to be the apostle to the Gentiles, but we have all been given the commission to spread the gospel and make this mystery known.
The outcome of all this according to Paul will be God’s wisdom being shown in the heavenly places. The racial reconciliation in the church and one body being made of the many is the cause of celestial wonder. This is an eternal purpose of God that has been accomplished through Christ.
In order to live out our call as gospel witnesses, we have been given boldness to speak and confident access to God in prayer. Therefore as hardship and suffering come, we should not lose heart.
Some Key Points:
- The Jews and Gentiles being brought together in one body is the mystery of Christ.
- Making known this mystery is the call on Paul and on all believers.
- Through the church being one body, God’s wisdom and glory is shown in the heavenly realms.
- Multiethnic Church – The racial unity of the church is here described as the mystery of Christ and the display of God’s wisdom in the heavenlies. This must be a priority for us on earth, that our churches would truly reflect this multiethnic, multicultural vision that God has.
- Make Known the Gospel – Paul emphasises his call to spread the gospel (both vertical and horizontal aspects), and we have the same call. We too should make known the mystery according to the gift of God’s grace in us.
- Do Not Lose Heart – The application made by the apostle is that we do not lose heart, in particular when we see his suffering, or those of any others. God is at work and his kingdom is advancing, even through suffering. So we should continue boldly in the mission and confidently in prayer.